Boredom and Dopamine: Understanding the Science Behind the Lull

The video discusses the phenomenon of feeling bored and unmotivated, even when engaging in activities that once brought joy and excitement. Boredom is described as a state of wanting to do something satisfying but being unable to do so. This state activates both the amygdala, responsible for negative emotions, and the prefrontal cortex, responsible for reason and decision-making. While boredom has a negative connotation, it can also be a tool to enhance creativity and future planning. The video explores the impact of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, on boredom. It explains how quick dopamine releases and subsequent drops can lead to a reduced baseline level, resulting in chronic boredom. The video suggests strategies to break this cycle, such as exposure to sunlight, maintaining adequate sleep, consuming L-Tryptophan-rich foods, and moderate caffeine intake. It also emphasizes the importance of finding meaning and value in activities to overcome boredom.

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Key Insights:

  • Feeling bored and lack of excitement in daily activities is a common experience for many people. Studies show that the average person is bored for about 131 days a year.
  • Boredom is a discomforting state of wanting to do something satisfying but being unable to do so. It activates the amygdala (responsible for negative emotions) and the prefrontal cortex (responsible for reason and decision-making), resulting in uneasiness.
  • Boredom can have a positive side as well. It can be a tool to enhance creativity and help us rethink and plan for our future.
  • Chronic boredom is on the rise despite having a wide range of recreational activities available. Quick dopamine-releasing activities like scrolling through phones, playing games, or eating junk food can contribute to a decrease in long-term pleasure and dopamine levels.
  • Exposure to sunlight can help raise dopamine levels and activate both dopamine circuits in the brain. Getting 10 to 30 minutes of sunlight daily can help break the cycle of boredom.
  • Besides sunlight, maintaining a good sleep schedule and ensuring 7 to 9 hours of sleep can improve dopamine baseline. Avoiding long-term use of melatonin is also recommended as it can lower dopamine levels.
  • Consuming foods rich in L-Tryptophan, such as sesame, cheese, beef, fish, and nuts, can help the body produce dopamine.
  • A moderate amount of caffeine intake (100-300 milligrams per day) can increase dopamine receptor availability in the brain. However, individual reactions to caffeine vary, so personal assessment is necessary.
  • To overcome boredom in tasks or studies, engaging in activities that make us uncomfortable can stimulate the production of dopamine and aid in dopamine level recovery.
  • Boredom can sometimes stem from a lack of autonomy and control in a job or environment. Finding ways to introduce small changes or learning new skills within the existing situation can bring freshness and prolong interest.
  • Recording one’s life or engaging in self-reflection can provide a new perspective and combat the feeling of boredom in a monotonous life.
  • Finding value in activities and investing dopamine in things we find meaningful can lead to a more fulfilling experience. The process of searching for meaning itself can be a rewarding journey.


I find it hard to feel excited and happy anymore, no matter how much I like movies, TV shows, games, or clothes. The things that used to make me happy and excited have become more and more boring. But habit still makes me repeat them over and over again. However, every time I engage in these activities, all that’s left is boredom and a sense of time-wasting guilt.

I often think that maybe I will feel better tomorrow after a good night’s sleep, but when I wake up and go about my day, I find myself falling back into the same cycle of boredom. If you feel the same way, you’re not alone. Studies have found that on average, we experience boredom for 131 days a year.

Why is this? In 2014, scientists conducted an experiment where subjects were asked to sit and think for 15 minutes in an empty room without any distractions, and an electric shock button was placed in front of them. The subjects had experienced the discomfort of the electric shock before the experiment. Surprisingly, during the experiment, half of the people pressed the button at least once, and one person even pressed it 190 times.

Why would someone prefer to be electrified rather than do nothing? According to a professor at New York University, boredom is a state of wanting to do something satisfying but not being able to do it. When we are in this state, both the amygdala (the part of the brain that deals with negative emotions) and the prefrontal cortex (the part that deals with reasoning and decision making) are activated. This simultaneous activation makes us worry about the past and the future, ultimately leading to a state of discomfort.

However, just like pain alerts us to danger, boredom also plays a physiological role. In another experiment, scientists asked two groups of people to perform a boring task before asking them to creatively use paper cups. The results showed that the more boring the task performed, the more creative the subjects were with the cups. It’s similar to how we often have bursts of inspiration while taking a shower.

So boredom isn’t all negative. If properly utilized, it can serve as a tool to improve creativity and help us re-plan our future. But what if boredom sticks around and doesn’t go away? According to literature from 2008 to 2017, chronic boredom has been on the rise. This raises the question: why are more people becoming chronically bored when there is an increasing variety of recreational activities available?

According to Stanford University Professor Anna Lemke, every happiness comes with a price. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter released when we seek pleasurable experiences, such as browsing our phones, eating chocolate, or achieving a goal, plays a role in our happiness and motivation. However, after the initial release of dopamine, the brain’s dopamine levels do not immediately return to baseline, but instead dip below it. This leads to feelings of anxiety and boredom. To counteract this dip, we often engage in activities that quickly release dopamine, such as scrolling through our phones, playing games, or eating junk food. But this spike in dopamine is followed by an even greater crash, leading to a cycle where we constantly seek those quick dopamine fixes, resulting in lower overall dopamine levels.

If we continue this lifestyle for a long time, not only does our pleasure diminish, but our baseline dopamine levels decrease as well. At this stage, no matter what we do, we feel bored. This also explains why it feels like there are fewer and fewer things we can enjoy now. Our environment is filled with stimuli that provide fast dopamine releases, making it difficult for us to engage in activities that offer delayed gratification.

Now that we understand the underlying principles of boredom and dopamine, can we break this vicious cycle? Have you felt this way during the pandemic? Despite having more time, we feel less motivated. Initially, I thought it was due to psychological factors like loneliness, anxiety, and irritability. However, I later discovered that it was related to long-term exposure to sunlight.

According to a 2021 study, our retina controls two dopamine circuits, and exposure to sunlight stimulates the release of dopamine, activating both circuits simultaneously. In a dim environment, dopamine levels are greatly reduced, and only one circuit is activated. Similarly, a 2018 study found that only those in dark environments experienced depression after their dopamine levels were reduced by medication.

So, if you feel bored doing anything, try to spend 10 to 30 minutes in sunlight every day. This can quickly raise your dopamine levels and help you regain your motivation. Personally, I like to go outside and take a walk in the sun or work out for half an hour after waking up. This way, I can benefit from both sunlight and exercise. In addition to increasing dopamine, sunlight also helps regulate our circadian rhythms, which improves sleep. Adequate sleep is crucial for maintaining a healthy dopamine baseline. Sleep deprivation severely reduces the number of dopamine receptors in the brain, hindering the production and transmission of dopamine. Therefore, it is important to aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each day.

However, we should try to avoid relying on melatonin supplements for an extended period. Studies have shown that after hamsters were fed melatonin for five weeks, their dopamine levels dropped by nearly 50 percent. Melatonin not only disrupts our circadian rhythms but also inhibits dopamine levels when used over a prolonged period. If you have trouble sleeping, it’s best to seek other solutions.

In addition to sleep, certain dietary changes can also help boost dopamine levels. L-Tryptophan, an amino acid, aids in dopamine production. Foods such as sesame, cheese, beef, fish, and nuts are rich in L-Tryptophan. If you feel like you’re not getting enough of it, try incorporating one or two of these foods into your diet. Finally, consuming the right amount of caffeine can enhance our dopamine circuits‘ sensitivity. In a study conducted in 2015, subjects who ingested 300 milligrams of caffeine showed a significant increase in dopamine receptor availability. It’s important to note that everyone reacts differently to caffeine, so it’s crucial to determine what works best for you. If you choose to consume caffeine, try to finish it before noon to avoid any adverse effects on sleep.

These are five ways to improve your dopamine baseline. Each day, you can choose to incorporate two or three of these strategies, which will help you regain your motivation and create a sense of novelty in your life. However, restoring your dopamine baseline is only the foundation for feeling happy and motivated.

But what if you find your work or studies boring and have to do them regardless? I used to think that when I felt this way, I could keep myself busy with something else until the boredom passed. However, I learned that this is not the most effective way to cope.

Renowned brain neurologist Andre Wheuman has noted that when we are bored, our dopamine levels are likely at a low point. At this stage, if we engage in something more challenging or uncomfortable than the immediate task, our body will naturally produce dopamine to help restore its levels. For example, taking a cold shower can stimulate dopamine release. Although most people find the idea of a cold shower uncomfortable, it is a powerful tool for recovering dopamine. Alternatively, you can choose activities like fitness, meditation, or reading, as long as they subjectively make you uncomfortable. Keep in mind that the purpose is to stimulate dopamine release.

Ultimately, everyone experiences boredom for different reasons. According to a 2018 study, boredom can stem not only from anxiety and depression but also from a feeling of being controlled. If you find yourself stuck in a job or situation that bores you intensely, it may be due to a lack of autonomy. While this is a common problem for many of us, it can be challenging to address immediately. In such cases, it may be helpful to focus on making small changes rather than completely changing your environment. For example, during my seven years of working in media, I sometimes find video production boring. However, before starting a video, I always make sure to learn a new skill, whether it’s editing, shooting techniques, or storytelling methods. Finding novelty in repetitive and mundane tasks helps me maintain interest and motivation over the long term.

If you’re unsure where to start or cannot change your current situation, consider documenting your life. Looking at yourself from a third-person perspective can inject novelty into an otherwise dull routine. In today’s social media-driven world, it’s easy to feel bored with our own lives. However, dopamine works the same for everyone, and there will always be ups and downs. The key is to find what you consider valuable and channel your limited dopamine towards those activities without regret. If you haven’t found it yet, keep searching, as the pursuit itself may hold meaning.

That’s all for today’s video. See you next time.